Well folks, it's been roughly 24 hours since that debacle of a game yesterday kicked-off, but I'm not sure I feel any less sick to my stomach about what took place. This was a statement game for Washington and Steve Sarkisian, and they failed miserably. The season is far from over, and there's enough talent on this team that they could still run the table and finish strong, but I don't think there are many Husky fans that have confidence that will happen. There's a lot of understandable anger out here and a lot of serious questioning of Sark. That's fair, but I'll remind everyone to take a deep breath and adhere to our posting rules and refrain from attacking anyone personally. This is a place for rational discussion, and remember that we're all Husky fans, so please take it easy on each other. On to the grades:
QB: I feel bad for Keith Price - it's clear he was playing at something less than 100% out there and that his thumb was an issue. In an ideal situation, Sark would have had a backup QB developed enough that he could feel confident playing and winning with when it was clear KP was not himself, but that's clearly not the case. KP was also victim to an OL performance that rivaled the worst of 2012, and poor play-calling that put him in bad situations. Still, whatever the reasons, this was a bad game from the QB's. KP was off-target on multiple deep throws where a decent pass leads to big yards and a good pass leads to a TD, and he wasn't on-target on many of his shorter throws. Given his injury status and the lack of any positive buzz from the few snaps Cyler Miles had, this has to be an area of significant concern moving forward. After the last three games, it's easy to imagine that KP is back to his shell-shocked 2012 self - it will be critical for Sark and Marques Tuiasosopo to build up their QB to the guy we saw vs. Boise State. Grade: D-
RB: After an impressive string of performances, perhaps Bishop Sankey was due for a letdown. It's hard to know how much to pin on Sankey and how much to assign to the OL and the gameplan, but the production was shockingly poor against a team that had been rather porous against the run prior to yesterday. No, he didn't have much in the way of running room, but neither did it appear that he was able to maximize what was there. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt in that regard, and note the huge checkdown play when he turned a simple dump-off pass into 26 yards, but this was not a good game overall for him. Also, it's concerning the lack of confidence this staff appears to have right now in Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington - can Sankey hold up the rest of the way without some help? Grade: D+
WR/TE: These guys weren't great - too many drops and too many times that KP couldn't find someone open - but they were the best of a poor offense yesterday. Jaydon Mickens was featured more than he has been in recent weeks with bubble screens and did a good job of picking up nice gains. Josh Perkins was a stumble away from a long TD reception; as it was, his 23 yard catch set up the first Husky TD. Kevin Smith had the big catch and run early in the 3rd quarter as the Huskies tried to get back in the ballgame, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins was money in the red zone again. Kasen Williams had some uncharacteristic drops and was only effective in the short passing game. Grade: C
OL: I can't grade these guys low enough - this was a terrible, terrible outing by them, as bad as any from last year (if not worse). They were dominated in every way, unable to open any running room for Sankey as the run game generated just 21 yards on 15 rushes (not counting sacks and the busted trick play with Smith), and surrendering 7 sacks and collapsing the pocket on just about every passing play. Remember when Mike Leach called out his OL last year? Those quotes wouldn't have been out of place yesterday about our OL. Grade: F (if there were a lower grade, I'd use it)
DL: Like the rest of the defense, it's tough to grade these guys without taking into consideration just how much the failures of the offense put them in bad situations all game. I though they started off the game somewhat promising, getting some pressure on Taylor Kelly and holding their own against the run game, but they wore down and lost contain and/or didn't hold the edge on the zone-reads and allowed Kelly to burn them for big scrambles, and then watched Marion Grice run all over them in the 2nd half. Hau'oli Kikaha was the best of a bad bunch, but he had his miscues too, biting on the zone read and letting Kelly get to the edge with no opposition. Grade: D-
LB: They had a few moments of good play in the first half as they helped keep ASU to field goals instead of touchdowns, but ultimately this was a bad game by this unit as they were undisciplined vs. the Sun Devil run game and had a terrible game in terms of tackling and wrapping up. Princeton Fuimaono had a boneheaded 15-yard piling on penalty that wiped out a big 3rd down stop at a critical point in the game early in the 3rd quarter and allowed ASU to continue a drive that resulted in a TD to put them back up by 3 scores and erased the momentum from the long Smith TD reception. Grade: F
Secondary: Cracks are showing in the armor of this unit. Marcus Peters remains a top-flight cover corner, and Greg Ducre is serviceable. But our safeties are lacking in pass coverage, and this group again struggled with zone coverage responsibilities. Peters was brilliant on an early trick play by the Sun Devils as he reacted quickly and made a terrific play to make the interception, and it looked like the Huskies might be on their way to a big early lead. Sean Parker was good early in run support and sniffing out bubble screens and ASU's horizontal game. But things fell apart as the game progressed and the score got more lopsided in favor of the home team, and guys started trying to do too much and blowing their assignments. They were burned repeatedly by Chris Coyle, and despite Jaelen Strong leaving the game after the 1st quarter, the Huskies were unable to lock down the Sun Devil passing game. In a pass-happy league, these guys need to regain their mojo. Grade: D+
Special Teams: A mixed-bag for these guys, which is actually an improvement over the last few weeks. Travis Coons continues to be quietly effective as a punter with his rolling rugby kicks, and the coverage unit managed to come up with a forced fumble on one of his kicks. His kickoffs were decent (notching 2 touchbacks) and coverage wasn't a disaster, but the Sun Devils came out slightly ahead on net kickoff yardage. A block on ASU's first PAT attempt looked like it might be a big play in the game, but ended up just an afterthought. John Ross showed both his potential with a couple of nice returns (49 & 36 yards) and his youth with some poor decisions to bring the ball out of the end zone and/or trying to outrun coverage laterally and getting dropped for a short return. Grade: C-
Coaching: Wow, where to start. I'm generally not one that harps a lot on Sark's play-calling, but I was dumbfounded at how he started off the game when just four of the first 14 play calls were runs for Sankey. Obviously at the time it was hard to predict that the nation's leading rusher was going to get absolutely shut down by a mediocre (at best) run defense, so it was puzzling to me. Even in hindsight it's puzzling, as it can't have been a surprise to Sark that Price's thumb was giving him trouble.
And while we saw a fair amount of the horizontal passing game return early in the game, Sark didn't really commit to it, and despite Price's issues and the growing realization that our OL was totally overmatched, he kept dialing up downfield passes. Which would have been fine as our guys were getting open, except: A) Price was not accurate, and B) our OL could not pass protect long enough for KP to find his open targets.
On a more fundamental level, how scary is it that we're in year five under Sark but he still doesn't have a backup QB he trusts to go in and win a game when his starter is clearly banged-up. Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist both came in to the program with obvious talent and a lot of hype, and while both are just in their second year in the program, that's on Sark for having whiffed the prior two years with his QB recruiting. And even when it became clear that Price was off and was not going to be able to win the game for us, Sark kept him in there until he got so hurt that he simply couldn't continue. Miles had better make some serious progress this week, because it's hard to imagine KP is going to be 100% (or anywhere close) this coming weekend. And frankly, this team shouldn't need KP to beat Cal.
It's also troublesome that the team is still in a position where in year five, against a team arguably less talented, they completely crapped the bed in a road game. While the Huskies played pretty well in Chicago and fought hard (and probably should have won) in Palo Alto, this was an epic collapse that brought back nightmares from last year at Arizona and at Oregon. This program in year five should be beyond these kinds of meltdowns and pathetic showings on the road.
Justin Wilcox doesn't get off without some dings either - while his defense was put in bad positions repeatedly by the failures of the offense and did well early in the game to limit ASU to field goals rather than touchdowns, this squad is still plagued by missed tackles, and we saw what looked like ghosts of the past in terms of blown assignments, players trying to do more than their task, and ultimately the appearance of a group that stopped playing with 100% effort.
This was a huge, huge step back for this coaching staff and this program, and it puts Sark squarely in the crosshairs. All of the positive vibes from a strong start to the season are gone, and now it's suddenly difficult to see this team achieving the goals that all but the most forgiving of fans have for the year. Whether or not Sark is actually going to be on a hot seat at the end of this year is uncertain, as Scott Woodward appears to be very squarely behind him, but the wolves are out and people are starting to look for their pitchforks. Grade: F